Qualifying our Ever-So-Merciful Consciences

The church is called to be a merciful people. Jesus has called us to extend mercy as we preach the gospel through the nations.  Sometimes, it seems, at least here in the U.S.A.,  as though we go out of our way to footnote, qualify, and  give restrictions on how that mercy is to be distributed. We often err on the side of doing nothing rather than on the side of doing too much. If I am ever in a position where I need mercy extended to me…  I hope that the church errs on the side of grace. Maybe loving our neighbor would cause us to do likewise.

Or maybe not…. we should check the footnotes to be sure. 

Jesus said… “For I was hungry(1) and you gave me food(2), I was thirsty(3) and you gave me drink(4), I was a stranger and you welcomed me(5), I was naked(6) and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me(7), I was in prison and you came to me(8).’

Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers(9), you did it to me.’”  (Matthew 25:35-40)

1 This must only include people who are working hard to provide for themselves, surely Jesus does not mean people that are hungry. Maybe people that are hungry after all the bills have been paid (including cable, internet, and iPhone, of course). We all have to work hard to put food on our tables.

2 If I can’t afford to give GMO free and organic products then I won’t be able to participate because of my conscience. We need to provide quality food to the poor, and since I am middle class and have five children of my own, I am afraid this does not apply to me. I bet there’s an organization that does this kind of thing.

3 Again, what are they doing to provide for themselves? This is America, the land of opportunity. I know many ‘self-made’ people. They just need to look for opportunities.

4 Surely Jesus must mean purified spring water here or maybe raw milk. That’s too expensive to just give away to people. You have to consider my conscience in this as well. My kids don’t even drink pop because of the high fructose corn syrup.

5 That sounds dangerous. Who would bring a stranger into his or her home? It’s hard enough trusting people that are in my church, why would Jesus want me to put my family’s safety and possessions on the line? I am sure there’s places they can go if they need fellowship or friendship. Strangers? Really?

6 Nudity is immodest. Why would I put myself in the position where I would come into contact with nude people? That may cause sexual temptation. And if they need clothes, there’s a Goodwill or Salvation Army that can provide those resources.

7 The government provides healthcare if people need it and emergency rooms are not allowed to refuse service. Plus, if they are contagious, I don’t have too many vacation days and I can’t use them being around sick people! That would put my family at risk, I am sure. I am too busy to visit sick people. There’s in-home agencies that do that kind of thing today.

8 If they are a real Christian what are they doing in prison? I doubt they are really saved, therefore this does not apply to me. I am sure there are prison chaplains that can work with them. They are probably just con artists anyway, you know, trying to take advantage of us real Christians.

9 This is not defined. Jesus must mean that they are communicant members of a solid, confessional, conservative, reformed or presbyterian denomination. Who is my brother? Surely he subscribes to the Three Forms or the Westminster Standards (original, of course, not the American revisions).


  1. Jeff Kessler November 19, 2014 at 1:48 pm #


    I appreciate the spirit behind this post and maybe I’ve missed your point.

    If nothing or too much are our only options, than your point is a good one. However, I’d argue a better question is between nothing or doing it correctly and efficiently. We are called to mercy AND to stewardship.

    Our nation has spent literally trillions on welfare since LBJ and the Great Society. Much of the motivation behind this is the desire to care. But let’s not fall into the trap of only caring about caring. Let’s care about people and part of that is to determine what sort of mercy is needed. It may be something along the lines of: “if a man won’t work, he doesn’t eat.”

    We are now to the point where the Democrat Party can’t win national or most statewide elections without huge turnout of the large, dependent, permanent underclass they helped create. This is horrible and evil. If the American church cares about mercy, we need to speak out and work to end this mess.

  2. Jim Fisher November 19, 2014 at 3:36 pm #

    I understand Nathan, your point. We do need to make sure we help the needy, whether it be food, clothing, a warm place to sleep, or even the gospel (especially the gospel). We need to do it with the right heart/motive also, and be cheerful as we do it. We should examine ourselves when we don’t help or we say no, that the reason is a valid one as you pointed out. But, as Jeff pointed out as well, there are times we do and should say no. A sloppy approach to helping the poor is not being a good steward as God has directed us to be AND it is many times not helpful for the poor you are helping. One thing I would like to point out, so often western Christians are admonished for our wealth and are endlessly being told how we need to “give it away” or there’s even the unspoken, although even spoken, notion that it’s somehow evil to obtain it. It harkens back to the, “Rich Christians” book from Ron Sider. But as in many of these cases the silence that comes afterward is deafening. That means/is, what the poor should be doing as well. What is their responsibility in this matter? To find work, to find help with a particular problem? Seek wise, Godly council? Or, to seek salvation through Christ? Repent? This is not a one way street, there is responsibility on both sides. To me there seems to be a ditch on both side ( as there usually is). Trying not to fall into one is the trick.

  3. Nathan Eshelman November 19, 2014 at 6:14 pm #

    Brothers, I agree that there are responsibilities that belong to those who are in need of mercy. The church, usually through the deaconate, ought to help men and women to be productive citizens in the kingdom (teaching the joys of 6 days of labor is part of the work of the deaconate). The church also must use wisdom as we help the poor. Oftentimes though I wonder how deeply we believe what we confess in this regard (me included!). I wish that my congregation’s mercy budget was higher, and I would love for confessionally reformed churches to be known as “merciful places.” Generally we are only known as being “theological places.”

    Often I wonder how much of a priority mercy is in the life of the church.

    One resource that has been helpful for our session and deacons, as we have worked through this pressing issue, is “When Helping Hurts.” We are called to minister mercy biblically- and finding that approach on a case-by-case basis is often trying, prayerful, stretching, and painfully difficult.


    The point of the article was spur us on to examine what excuses we do make and to seek to be more merciful in the light of God’s Holy Word. My premise is that the church, and even the confessionally reformed churches, err on the side of doing too little, not enough, or nothing at all. We don’t often get accused of doing “too much” mercy. For that we ought to examine ourselves and seek the Word and Spirit’s wisdom in how we are to fulfill this calling of the church.

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